Machinists Succeed in Moving Forward Funding for United Launch Alliance Rockets

IAM Local 44 members pose with NASA Commercial Crew astronauts who will use their rockets to travel to the International Space Station in 2017.

The IAM’s lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill paid off when a House committee approved an amendment allowing United Launch Alliance (ULA) to obtain 18 RD-180 rocket engines. The IAM has hundreds of members at ULA.

Newcomer SpaceX, a non-union company, is targeting the funding. Pentagon officials have said they prefer to keep using the Russian-made RD-180 rockets used by ULA until a U.S.-produced rocket engine is ready for use.

“I want to applaud the successful work of our legislative team in ensuring passage of a key amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that will enable United Launch Alliance to continue to use the RD-180 rocket engine until an American built engine is finally available in 2019,” said IAM International President Bob Martinez. “An antiunion company, SpaceX, fought to deny ULA access to the engines. Without the RD-180, ULA would not be able to fulfill its critical national security mission for the Department of Defense and the jobs of IAM members at ULA would be in jeopardy.”  

Space industry consultant Loren Thompson has said moving away from the RD-180 rockets, which hoist military communications satellites into space, would make it “easier for adversaries to launch a successful surprise attack against America.”

“As the largest union at NASA, IAM members have been an integral component of every launch going back to the original Mercury program,” wrote Martinez in a letter to Congress. “For decades, our members’ skills and dedication have provided the ‘right stuff’ to successfully meet the challenges of our nation’s space program.”